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William Miller is a lawyer,
actually a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan. He holds a D Juris
and a PhD in English, and wrote The Mystery of Courage (2000) and The
Anatomy of Disgust (1997) to some acclaim, if the jacket blurb is reliable
as a source.
Now close to the heart for me is the belief that
most of us are failed narcissists, and spend our days as kind of impostors who
dare to dream of great things, and never get there….OK, so maybe that's just
me. But, and I say it again, but, I get to see lots of professionals and
patients whom I respectively work with, with lots of crushed dreams, and a
sense of the failure of their fakery.
That's what this book is about. How 'faking it' is
a sense that results from scrutiny, by ourselves, by others, no matter. When we
go 'meta' to our own system, self-commentary results. Worse, we await the
telephone call of doom, or the Dean's memo, designed to expose us for what we
Quoting/paraphrasing from the
introduction, Miller talks about the fakery of social niceties, such as paying
lip service to pious views we don't actually live by, feigning sorrow when
guests (finally!) depart, or faking joy at their arrival, simulating delight at
a colleague winning some award or getting a promotion, shamming grief at the
departure via the cemetery of the local ice cream Nazis (those from Brisbane
will know what I mean by that), assuming a façade of concern when a student is
struggling with unlearned material, faking interest in stories about someone
else's brats, or an old-timer's saloon stories. All in all, for the sake of
propriety, we put on facades to foment acceptance, or avoid scrutiny, we hide, we
hide from the metaview.
You can appreciate the width of
this territory when you look at the title of Chapter Two: Hypocrisy and Jesus.
In "ostentatious alms" am reminded of the Jewish man who gives
charity by getting the master of religious ceremonies in the synagogue to announce
: "Mr Chaim Zorick of 22 Elm Street Connecticut, Wife is Beulah, drives a
black Mercedes, sits in the front row on Friday night in the blue yarmulke,
gives $1000…anonymously". Also, motes and beams, stoning adulterers, all
are titles here. In discussing these things under these headings, Miller seems
to find all the little things that we shy away from, and shy us towards them,
confronting our foibles. One can hardly think, "Wow, she's nice"
without then recalling Miller saying, "Are you confusing youth with
beauty?". Its that kind of book, with lots of the nitpicking I have found
attorneys famous for, in the rules:
There may be crazed amounts of
fussiness and persnicketyness in the rabbinic rules as to what is work and what
not, but there is no hypocrisy. If anything, the vice in the rules is the
obsessive concern to get it exactly right (page 17).
In this way, Miller points out the hypocrisy of Jesus in
going for the rule about healing on the Sabbath, not about healing, and thus
his motives are questionable, he cares not, it seems about the sufferer, but
about what day he will dispense care.
Miller goes on to say that the
problem is one of drawing the line somewhere when you make a rule, but this is
not being done well, at least in the line he takes with Jesus here. So on to
the next chapter: Antihypocrisy.
Here again, the suspicion is that
the glittering deed is done for the exposure of the glitter, not for the
goodness exposed, like having fame, not for the sense of accomplishment, but,
well, for the fame. Jesus suggests we should pretend to not be fasting in our hairshirt,
when we in fact are. To assert we are fasting, is to assert we are holier than
thou, so if we are, but assert we are not, then we are not holier than thou on
the surface, but in fact we really are, but…..well we are not telling you.
"Better to appear completely given over to unapologetic luxury than to
appear virtuously dressed in unostentatious habit and be suspected of
ostentatious piety" he says on Page 21 referring to the St Thomases who
work hairshirts under their luxurious robes. But no one likes being deceived,
and this is what it is, as Frank Churchill does in Emma.
The question is, can vanity be put
to good use? Miller says that in this way the usual hypocrisy of false good
appearances gives way to a new hypocrisy of shameless redescriptions of
undisguised vice as generators of virtue, but people are ashamed to avow bad or
selfish motives openly. So you do good deeds in response to the internal
fakery, and wallop, you have fooled yourself into goodness. So Jesus prefers
the look of modesty, its distasteful, so rather do it privately and seek
accolade elsewhere, and of course, much, much later, left hand ignorant of the
right hand and so on.
In the next chapter, in virtues
immune to hypocrisy, we get to courage and faking it. Courage is thus like
almsgiving and praying, we seek either external or clandestine support for
doing so, or for overcoming fear by an outward act of bravery which does not
necessarily show we are not terrified, but it may. On the other hand, if we
admit we are terrified, we look even more courageous, having shown we overcame
fear, most war heroes admit just that, and feel like fakers for all that.
Politeness suffers from the same fate at Miller's hands, being the most
acceptable form of hypocrisy.
Don't think that because hypocrisy
is a disgusting vice that dissimulation, imperfect motive, and the feigning of
views and opinions are not necessary to the cause of virtue. But because
virtue must cavort with such suspect company, can we be blamed for mistrusting
the moral state of our soul when we are being little more than polite company?
And suppose you decide that you will damn all dissimulation and pretence in the
interest of unvarnished truth. I give you next the ugly sight of naked truth.
And when I have finished I suspect we will all admire the virtue of those small
hypocrisies – call them reticences if you will – that make us civil (page 47).
Now naked truth is in the vein of
"hey, wanna f—k?" Now I personally have tried this in a despairing
moment after many years of dating, telling the object of the game of dating,
well, lets stop mating games, do you wanna f—k or not, after all, this is the
end result of the endless parties and dinners we have been doing, and I am
tired of it, and since this is the purpose of all this, do ya or don't ya?
With the results he suggests behind me, namely a seriously disillusioned female
response to the cynicism of abandoning the ritualized protocols on my part, I
learned the rule that seduction is a leaning towards indirectness which is
acceptable, subterfuge, denial, no, that's not all I want from you and so on,
for this, there is social support. Like I said, cynical. So, the function of
successful ritual is to finesse the issue of motives, satisfying in itself, if
even not too honest, all of which is laid down about 30 pages earlier, now
fleshed out. So the core irony is that once truth enters the social domain as
a strategy to advance ones own position, it is magically transformed into a
fake approach, suggesting mendacity instead of crude honesty; nothing is more
likely to deceive us than the absolute truth?
Prayer and apology are next in
Miller's sights, like all 'good' Jews should, he goes to the synagogue, faking
the right tone for the kids, and staying focused where possible, not worried
about the absence of the babe from last week, or why no one near is over 6 foot
tall, and perhaps in a sense to spite Hitler, hence the demand in the holy
tractates that a man who represents the community in prayer, say for rain,
should be one who is starving, and has kids to feed, so one can assume his
prayers are in earnest.
Hysterically, squirmingly funny,
the true impact of his piece on the Amidah, the standing silent prayer
of every Jewish attendance at the synagogue, will be lost on the non-Jews. I
recommend it highly; it's a marvellous piece of writing and is the axis of the
To continue to elaborate on all of
the chapters would be unfair to the publishers. As with his other books, at
least as reported, this is a wonderful work with illusions of
tongue-in-cheekiness all over the place, making us squirm with the truth of it,
and the paradoxes of being a sentient human being, capable of hiding from the
world our inner working memories, feelings, thoughts. One of my brain-injured
patients was particularly disturbed by her remarkable honesty that had emerged
since her accident, the 'realness' of her being socially unacceptable.
Chastised by her priest about some vice she had openly admitted to thinking off
in prayer times, she asked him to show her where Joanna would normally sit, and
when he did, she chastised him for knowing where the most beautiful woman in
the church sat, whilst he seldom knew where everyone else did. Needless to
say, this was not a good demonstration politically for her in her attempt to
rise to prominence in accordance with her religiosity.
Love also takes its turn being exposed, and the
gorgeous chapter on courtship follows, as does the concept of role enactment,
mimicry, make up and pills, and false immodesty. A whole swathe of notes and
references at the end tell you of this man's literacy and capacity for exposing
the impostor, as a good lawyer should.
Nowhere does the flippancy of his writing
betray the understanding that he shows of the psychology of the true Woody
Allen neurotic, who drove a motorcycle and took drugs, while admonishing their
children to never do either. It is often a most personal view as well, Miller
positions himself in all the ways expected of the good storyteller, and of a
man almost at peace with his own foibles. In a way, when reading it, and when
it tells us we are revealed, we feel our hairshirts have been discovered, and
that is comforting, and one can say, you see, its not only me….. Homo Sapiens,
the sentient human being, is capable of being, well, Homo Secretus (?), but
that is a lonely position, and when exposed, we can feel better, not alone, and
this is what Miller does for us in this nice little book.
It's a good read, can be taken very
seriously, or not, and you don't have to be Jewish, but it helps.
© 2004 Roy Sugarman
PhD, Clinical Director: Clinical Therapies Programme, Principal Psychologist:
South West Sydney Area Health Service, Conjoint Senior Lecturer in
Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Australia.